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Qu(e)eries: Why Don't LGBT Movies Make Money At The Box Office Anymore?

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire August 14, 2013 at 1:07PM

It is indeed rare for a film to feature lead gay or lesbian characters -- as "I'm So Excited" does -- to cross the $1 million mark, at least these days.
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"Brokeback Mountain"
"Brokeback Mountain"

1. There's just not as much of a need for these films anymore. Definitely not the case. While it's true that since the 1990s considerable progress has been made in the LGBT rights movement, it has clearly not reached anything close to an optimal situation free of homophobia. But even if it had, it's not like films exist solely to push social movements. When is there ever not a need to see oneself represented in film?

2. There are less LGBT films being made, so there will clearly be less of them grossing $1 million. If you look at the programs for LGBT-focused film festivals like Outfest, Frameline or Inside Out, it's clear this is not the case. Frameline for example had a record-setting 800 submissions this past year which resulted in 82 features and 155 shorts in the program. How many of them end up getting distribution is the true issue here. Of those 82 features at Frameline, it's optimistic to suggest more than 10 will receive distribution deals, and of those few will reach more than a handful of screens nationwide. So it's really more that there are less LGBT films being released than it is there's less of them being made.

3. There are less marketable LGBT films being made. There's definitely a bit of truth to this. Clearly "Pariah" or "Weekend" don't have the same mass appeal as "The Birdcage" or "In & Out." But whose fault is that? The wide-release, studio-made films with lead LGBT characters that were released in the 1990s simply aren't being made anymore. The last film with a primary LGBT character to reach 1,000 screens was "Bruno" (a film many consider a bit questionable in its representation) in 2009, and before that it was "Brokeback Mountain" in early 2006. Studios simply aren't touching films with lead LGBT characters anymore. And without studios behind them, it's harder to get marketable stars or the prints & advertising necessary to even try and rake in "Birdcage" dollars.

4. All the good LGBT representation is on TV.  Steven Soderbergh notably said earlier this year that he made "Behind The Candelabra" for HBO because it was "too gay" for Hollywood. But it certainly wasn't too gay for TV, which has far exceeded film as of late when it comes to LGBT representation, both in terms of quality and quantity. A study by GLAAD noted 4.4% of scripted television's series regulars represented LGBT characters, which is great news. But that isn't a reason why film shouldn't be doing the same. If anything, the success of so many television shows with LGBT characters should suggest there's just as much potential in film.

Weekend
"Weekend"

5. The market has simply changed. Here's where the most significant answer lies, and it very much encompasses the last 4 explanations as well.  The economic world of film is vastly different in 2013 than it was in 1993 or 2003.  Back in the 1990s, studios were making the kind of mid-budget films in which "Philadelphia," "In & Out, "The Birdcage" and "To Wong Foo" encompass. Then in the 2000s when studios all had started specialty divisions (like Universal's Focus Features and Fox's Fox Searchlight), LGBT content seemed to be delegated there with smaller budgets (like with "Brokeback Mountain," "Kinsey," "Milk," and "Capote").  Nowadays, even those kind of $15-$20 million budgeted LGBT films are rare.

But smaller LGBT films -- films comparable to "Weekend" or "Gayby" or "Keep The Lights On" -- existed back in the 1990s too. Films like "Trick" or "Bound" or "Jeffrey" or "Go Fish." And those films all made over $2 million (or more like $4 million if you adjust for inflation), as did dozens more of their size. So why do smaller LGBT films these days struggle to hit $500,000? Yes, in part because a lot of them seem to be making more of their money on VOD or digital platforms than in theaters ("Weekend" being a prime example). But that isn't enough of a reason for me, and it shouldn't be for you either. It's lazy. There have been 117 films released in North America to gross over $1 million so far in 2013. Just the aforementioned "I'm So Excited" featured a LGBT character, and it's not even in the top 100 grossers. That's less than 1%. People are still going to see movies, and it's up to the much more than 1% of the population that are not straight to take up opportunities to go see themselves represented on the big screen when they can. So when "Concussion" and "C.O.G." and "Stranger By The Lake" and "Kill Your Darlings" and "Blue Is The Warmest Color" hit theaters later this year, go see them. In theaters

"Que(e)ries" is a column by Indiewire Senior Writer Peter Knegt. Follow him on Twitter.

This article is related to: Que(e)ries, Box Office, I'm So Excited , Brokeback Mountain, The Kids Are All Right, Farewell, My Queen, LGBT







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